Letter to the editor of Večernji list

 

REACTION BY MEMBERS OF THE WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP B.a.B.e. (MARTINA BELIĆ, BILJANA BIJELIĆ, LIDIJA BUDIMOVIĆ, VESNA KESIĆ, SANJA SARNAVKA, RADA SUČEVIĆ) TO THE ARTICLE “THEM”


PATRIOTIC BLINDNESS AND INTOLERANCE

We are asking you to publish the following text, according to the Law on Media, as a reaction to the article “Them” published in Večernji list’s column “Patriotic naggings” by Milan Ivkošić on June 14, 1998.

The article by Milan Ivkošić is filled with libels, insults and insinuations directed towards Rada Borić and all women activists of women’s organizations and deserves engagement by the Attorney General. Female and male activists of women’s and other non-governmental organizations advocate for human and women’s rights, they are against violence against women and for gender equality – and also for that matter, for democratization, for the development of civil society and the promotion of political and democratic culture in the Republic of Croatia. Ivkošić’s libels constitute a criminal offence according to Croatian and international regulations.

We owe a commentary to the male and female readers of Večernji list, who are often exposed to similar narrow-mindedness, national and male-chauvinist arbitrariness and attacks on the rights and dignity of other individuals.

Rada Borić’s assertion, expressed in the TV show “Press klub” on June 9, and quoted by Ivkošić, states that: “violence had transferred from the battlefield to the family, to violence against women” certainly is not “a serious condemnation about the state of Croatian society”, as he claims, but an empirically and theoretically researched and well-known fact. However, Ivkošić’s libellous attack/accusation(?) that Rada Borić had “openly defended the position of the Great Serbian fascist aggressor” in the show, and his slander and insulting of other women from women’s organizations on the basis of gender, their nationalities, age, appearance, marital and parental status is quite appalling.

The correlation of domestic and war violence is something that every person who gives support to women victims of domestic violence, in institutions and women’s non-governmental organizations is faced with and is aware of on a daily basis. The experience of all post-war societies, including Croatian, shows that men traumatized in the war take out their accumulated aggression and stresses caused by the experienced horrors (PTSD) on their family members, on wives and children, and also in public violence.

Domestic violence in war and post-war years is always and everywhere growing. Last year alone it increased by 12 per cent in Croatia. One of the reasons why this happened is that there are no adequate measures for psycho-social support and this obvious insufficiency is also discussed by veteran organizations. Data regarding this issue has been gathered by women’s groups and can be found in police statistics and the Croatian media has also written about it.

The image of the Croatian War of Independence, its morality and cause, was not at all distorted by the mentioned fact or by anything Rada Borić claimed on that show. The increase of domestic violence is equally present in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It is just a phenomenon present in every war, in all communities, and unfortunately in ours also. Comments on the show were presented with the aim of pointing out that neither Croatian laws nor government authorities (the police, social welfare centres, mental health institutions) show enough care, that they are insufficiently funded, that there is no political will to confront the with domestic and public violence against women. What is needed is a considerable amount of patriotic blindness and ignorance to deny this and transform it into political accusations as Milan Ivkošić did.

Everything else that Ivkošić stated in his column just further portrays him as a person aggressively spreading hate speech, intolerance, nationalistic and patriarchal chauvinism, a person without a modicum of civilizational consciousness or knowledge of democracy, political freedoms, the human right to security and life without violence, or rights to free association, communication, public appearances, informing and access to information or other women’s, human and minority rights.
Precisely what Ivkošić considers as being “degenerative”, “unnatural” and “contrary to the laws of nature” is recognized, in the culture of human rights and international legal mechanism for the protection of those rights, as the grounds for demanding human rights, especially women’s human rights. Public singlings-out, attacks and discrimination on those grounds are regarded as violations of rights. Ivkošić’s “information” about someone’s family, political, ethnic background, standpoints and other characteristics, public attacks and denial of rights on the mentioned grounds represents a violation of rights, an open call to break these mentioned rights and advocacy of a state that does not respect human rights as a value let alone as a practice.

To make the issue more clear we will just list a few examples from the alphabet of human rights that Ivkošić denies:

  • even if there were 100 per cent Serbian women or non-Croatian women in women’s groups, their political, democratic and human right would be to organize themselves and to advocate for their interests and aims;
  • even “absolute minorities”, whatever that means, have the right to exercise their public influence on laws passed by the Parliament. It is the responsibility of the authorities, laws and free public/media to enable that influence;
  • it is against every philosophy of human rights, international conventions and even authentic Christianity to discriminate women war victims on the grounds of their nationalities as Ivkošić does;
  • married women without children (“barren women”), unmarried spinsters, single women (divorcees), old women (or senior women in non-sexist and nondiscriminatory language), “ugly women”, “anti-women” etc. have both the right and need to fight for women’s rights, to fight against domestic violence and other forms of violence, insults, defamation of character, including slander. Their rights are, precisely due to their status (protection of so-called vulnerable groups), protected by international conventions. Their rights should especially be protected in our county because Ivkošić-type persons still violate and challenge those rights. Statements such as “women can only be warmed up on stakes” or “...it is better to take a book from a shelf and read the Greeks than to kill a woman...” are just a few of Ivkošić’s many “clever gems” which legitimate violence against women and the violent relationship between sexes;
  • all these women have the right to advocate for the right of women to decide about their own bodies and child-bearing because this represents a woman’s human right to self-determination and often this very right includes the guarantee of protection from the worst form of violence against women – rape (in war and peace, in marriage, family and in public places);
  • it is not enough that Ivkošić “has nothing against lesbians just as long as they do not transform their lesbianism into militant ideology”. If ever in Croatia should the culture of human rights prevail over Ivkošić’s “culture” of violation and denial of the same rights, he will have to understand that all minorities, as well as sexual ones, have the right to – human rights. They have the right to organize themselves, to exercise their influence on laws, to advocate for the ideology of their choice as long as they do not jeopardize any of Ivkošić’s rights in which case he would certainly have to energetically show and prove his case before the Croatian and European courts and public.

In the entire story there is an observation made by Večernji list’s columnist that we can agree with and that is that there really exists a stigmatization and collective stereotypes about Herzegovinians in Croatia. Ivkošić’s description of a TV host as a “Herzegovinian smuggler” is a blatant example of that. Yet again, Ivkošić has used the mentioned observation in the wrong place and for the wrong purpose, namely, for manipulation. Surely, he will never find any example that the women from feminist women’s groups have insulted a Herzegovinian, either as an individual or as a regional group. We know better because we have, much too often, been subjects of labelling, insulting, intolerance and violation of human rights according to sex, ethnic, age or any other grounds whenever it occurs to someone like Ivkošić.

Where do the roots and origin of such stigmatization, labelling, narrow-mindedness and decline of cultural standards of public communication in Croatia come from, is something that Ivkošić should, both as a chronicler and a member of the presidency of the party in power, think about. He himself has enthusiastically participated in forcing such discourse on the Croatian public from the start. When there were not enough external enemies (Serbians, members of the Yugoslav Secret Police/officers/policemen/feminists/politicians, Great-Serbians and the entire menagerie), the dominant discourse turned to the first ones who could have been recognized, out of any reason or need, as different and strange in their own, till then homogenized corpus.

Ivkošić uses language, whether wittingly or not it’s all the same, and promotes the stand that is, according to Foucault, bio-political, and in which the state structuralizes society on the basis of race characteristics and gender inequality. “Higher values” proclaimed by the state become the basis for political activities in which some are less worthy and when they speak about that they become – degenerate. Everybody knows what comes next: the cleansing of the unwanted. 

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